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Help, we lack style.

mikeberr's picture

We are in the process of buying a different home.

Our current home is a post war 1 1/2 story (cape cod..ish) in a neighborhood full of the same houses just at slightly different stages of updating. This is a starter home neighborhood that is safe and desirable but we are outgrowing the space. Remodeling is fun (usually) and I am pretty good at it although I am not about to quite my regular job. I am handy and my wife is tolerant.

Each room in our current house looks good on it's own but we lacked a theme or binding element from room to room. I am determined to avoid this mistake on the second house.

The house we are buying is bigger but not too big. It is a 1975 two story with bedrooms above the living/dining/kitchen space. There is a two stall garage on one side with a family room behind the garage. There is a porch running the width of the front with three windows upstairs. It is a typical house in the midwest. I am familiar with the basic styles (cape/colonial/bungalow etc) and this house is lacking any style. But, location is key, the house is solid and the price was right for us to put money into remodeling. It is one of the least expensive houses in the neighborhood so there is room to sink some money into the house and still be able to recoup if we need to sell. The house is in a good school district and we could live there for 10 years without the need to move up. The house has had some updating but nothing major since construction.

We plan to start with bathrooms and move on as time and money allow. This remodel will span years and the work will be done by us. I recognize that I need some sort of "master plan" to guide our remodeling. 

We aren't too particular about the styles. We can find many different elements that we like in almost any house style and we aren't looking to turn our 1970's style less house into a faithful reproduction cape or bungalow, etc. We are looking for exterior changes so it would resemble a style and a few interior themes so we don't clash styles.

I am willing to pay a professional for some guidance/vision/expertise.  We will have plenty of time for research and developing the details later.

Should we look for an architect, interior designer, Someone other professional? Do we need a professional? What are the potential pay structures for their services?

Any idea what something like this might cost? Any different options to help the Pro do their job more quickly (i.e. save time and money)?  



Edited 12/5/2005 10:01 pm ET by mikeberr

(post #175923, reply #1 of 5)

I would begin by looking through magazines and clipping out pictures of styles you like and putting them in a folder. Even if you hire a designer, this will help him/her know ehat you like. I would also go to a library and look through books on architecture and architectural styles.

It sounds to me that with a two story and the full width porch, you could turn this into a "farmhouse style" house. Generally, that would include a wrap around porch (all sides, or close to it), a steeper pitched roof on the second story and shallow, shed roofs over the porches. Columns supporting the porch roofs are a feature of this style. For interest, you can add a dormer-type roof over the entrance. I particularly like houses that have this dormer feature at an angle--off a corner of the front of the house, for instance. (Usually they cut the corner of the house across so it's flat.) For added interest, you can have bay windows--either the bay floor to celing, or just with window seats.

You may be able to get by without a designer--depends on how good you and your wife are at visualising (and knowing what you want). I'd start by looking at pictures though--and looking at real houses--every time you go for a drive, notice the houses you like and don't like. I also like Dutch Cross Colonials ("barn" (gambrel) roofs that cross at 90 degrees). Good luck! Sounds like fun!

Edit: It just so happens that I live in Michigan and would perhaps be able to consult with you on this. We aren't supposed to advertise here, and I don't do this for a living (though I'd dearly like to), but I could talk with you gratis. Email me if you have further questions.

Just looked at an interesting book of interiors and exteriors called The Good Home by Dennis Wedlick. Some of his designs would be expensive, but they are a starting point to "tickle" your imagination.

Edited 12/6/2005 6:59 am ET by Danno

Edited 12/6/2005 9:28 pm ET by Danno

(post #175923, reply #2 of 5)

Thanks for your help. I will keep this in mind in the next few months. We have a lot of moving to do and after we get settled in I'll be looking into this a little more.

I'll also check out your book recommendation and if anyone else has any book ideas I would appreciate them. If there is a book with before and after pictures of house exteriors that would be great.



(post #175923, reply #3 of 5)

Dear Mike,

Your idea of developing a master plan for your remodel is good. Most people miss the boat completely on this particular issue. A good idea that I have used myself with home owners on a limited budget is focusing on the least used spaces of your house to develop and experiment with potential styles prior to utilizing one of them thruout your remodel, unless you can identify early on what will look good for you.

Also, the easiest way to "tie" everything together is to pick a couple of unifying elements, i.e. a particular trim, floor finish, paint color, cabinet type, cabinet pulls, etc. the you utilize thruout. Varying to many elements within a house creates a "punky-brooster" look that makes little or no sense to the regular individual.

If re-sale value comes into play at all, be careful not to go to far with your own "style" unless it can be considered timeless. All to often these things have to be redone or removed if the home will be sold. Obviously in this case, perception is everything.

As far as books, I like to steer people toward Sarah Susanka's "Not So Big House" series of books, Fine Home Building Magazine, as well as several fine books published by the Taunton Press. Especially the "updating" series of books that discuss how to update different architectural styles. I'm assuming that you are currently reading "inspired House?" This is a very good start.

(post #175923, reply #4 of 5)

There is a maxim - live in the house a year before you do anything. Get to see it's quirks, and it may even 'tell' you what it wants. And if nothing else, choose some kind of homogenizing colour scheme in the meantime - paint is cheap, and can be redone easily.

You'll find professional advice expensive, especially if you don't know what you want.

All the best...

To those who know - this may be obvious. To those who don't - I hope I've helped.



(post #175923, reply #5 of 5)


I bought a house last year with the same plan in mind. The house is a daylight ranch with the space we wanted but absolutely no style and it was dated. We are about 1/2 way done with the main floor, and will do the basement next year. This is the third house we have done it to, basically increasing the homes value by about 50% each time.

Here are some guidelines we use:

  • Pick a style. If you dont, then you get a lot of nice rooms with no cohesive elements. I think not having a preference, as you stated, will work against you. It gives you a framework to make decisions from.

  • Go to a "street of dreams" event. Look at a bunch of houses of various styles and pick the one that really jazzes you. You wont likely be able to have all the expesive stuff, but you can decide on the feel.

  • Determine what will anchor your house. For our current house, we decided that maple flooring, a stone fireplace, and cherry cabinetry would be the main things.

  • Get a color pallet and paint every room from it. You can have various color schemes in your rooms, but the colors will flow. Nothing looks worse than a pastel room ajoining an earth-tone hallway.

  • Dont be afraid to spend a little money on design books. I am doing our master bath now, and I spent $100 on 4 design books with lots of pictures. I figure its a cheap date compared to the $5000 for materials I am spending on the remodel. Cut out the pictures you choose and make a "design book"

Good luck,